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Recent Developments in the EP EU

VIEWS: 6 PAGES: 19

									Recent Developments in the European Parliament
                 and the EU




           Bulletin No. 35 : 23 March 2011




Prepared by the Oireachtas National Parliament Office, Brussels
          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
___________________________________________________________________________________



Contents                                                                                        Page



European Parliament – Political and Legislative Highlights ..............…..........                 3
      European Parliament to investigate allegations of corruption ...……….…                          3
      New report critical of 2 seat arrangement for European Parliament ...........                  3
      Enlargement - Turkey and Montenegro ….………………………………..                                           4
      Parliament to call for tougher credit rating agency rules.............................         5
      Iceland makes progress towards EU membership........................................           5
      Trade agreements and EU agriculture …………………….….…….........                                     6
      Parliament upholds immunity of German MEP …..….………………......                                    7



Inter-Parliamentary Activities …………………………………... ..................... 7
       Conference of Speakers……..………………………................................ 7
       Upcoming inter-parliamentary events .......................................................... 8



European Commission News …………….......................………………………. 8
      Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base Proposal…………….............. 8
      EU proposal for passenger data to fight serious crime and terrorism ......... 9
      Commission proposes clearer property rights for international couples....... 11
      Enlargement - progress made by Croatia ………………............................. 11
      European Commission sets out an EU agenda for the rights of the child..…12
      Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework
      for EU Research and Innovation funding………………….…………........ 13
      Recruitment to the EU Institutions ……………………………….............. 14
      Court ruling on free to view sporting events ……..................................... 14
      Commission launches action plan to reduce early school leaving ............. 15



Council of the European Union........ …………………………….........………. 16
      Eurozone leaders agree “Pact for the Euro”
       – Need for tax policy coordination stressed................................................ 16
      Council approves Directive on cross-border healthcare .............. …..…… 17
      Progress on new food labelling rules............................................. …..…… 18
      Council adopts new rules on late payment in commercial transactions…… 19
      Forthcoming Council meetings.................................................... …..…… 19




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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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1. EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT – POLITICAL AND LEGISLATIVE
   HIGHLIGHTS

   European Parliament to investigate allegations of corruption against MEPs
   Following bribery allegations published in the Sunday Times against three MEPs,
   the European Parliament has begun a formal. Independently of this action, two of
   the MEPs named in the article, Ernst Strasser (EPP, Austria) and Zoran Thaler
   (S&D, Slovenia), have resigned from the European Parliament, while the S&D
   group has announced that the third MEP, Adrian Severin (Romania), is no longer
   a member of the group. The announcement from the Parliament follows a lengthy
   "sting" investigation by the Sunday Times, during which journalists posing as
   lobbyists for the financial sector contacted 60 MEPs offering financial
   inducements in return for the tabling of amendments to weaken legislation
   regulation the financial industry.

   Ms. Mojca Kleva, currently the National Parliament Representative for the
   Slovenian Parliament, will now become an MEP, having been nominated to
   replace the Slovenian member who resigned.


   New report critical of 2 seat arrangement for European Parliament
   New research shows that most MEPs find the monthly travel between Brussels
   and Strasbourg wasteful, undermines parliament's effectiveness and is bad for the
   environment and their health. Last October UK MEP Edward McMillan-Scott set
   up an informal, cross-party group composed of senior MEPs to examine all
   aspects of the controversial arrangements. The resulting 40-page report, "A Tale
   of Two Cities", is supported by an attitude survey conducted by the University of
   Zurich's psychology department. According to the "A Tale of Two Cities" report,
   if there was a single Seat in Brussels:

          €180m would be saved annually
          317 full-time staff posts could be abolished
          19,000 tonnes of CO2 would be saved every year

   In today’s economic climate, the report suggests that the economic and
   environmental cost of two seats can no longer be justified. With the Parliament's
   new powers and responsibilities over almost all areas of EU policy under the
   Lisbon Treaty, it must be more efficient. The two-seat arrangement is an
   anachronism dating back to different times. Despite the controversy, there have
   been no official EP reports or debates on the two-seat arrangement for over 18
   years. Individuals responding to the University of Zurich study cited enormous
   expense, emotional and physical stress, as well as numerous logistical and
   technical problems that have undermined Strasbourg as a productive meeting
   place. They said it would be more efficient and politically more effective to be
   based in Brussels.

   The decision by governments in 1992 to make Strasbourg the parliament's official
   seat stipulates a minimum of 12 sittings per year. This can only be formally
   changed by member states acting unanimously. MEP McMillan Scott has said he


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   intends to put forward a proposal to have the question of a single seat debated and
   voted on by the parliament as a whole, making use of its new right to propose
   changes to the treaty.

   In a related development, the Parliament has voted to reduce its presence in
   Strasbourg slightly, MEPs voted 357 to 253, with 40 abstentions, to cut one of
   their plenary meetings held in Strasbourg in 2012 and 2013 and instead combine
   two October sessions in a single week. The French government has reacted
   strongly to the move and will challenge the decision in the European Court of
   Justice.


   Enlargement - Turkey and Montenegro
   At its recently plenary session in Strasbourg, the European Parliament considered
   the progress of Turkey and Montenegro in their EU membership negotiations.
   Regarding Turkey, Parliament expressed concern at the slow progress on human
   rights and key reforms in 2010. The Cyprus-Turkey deadlock, lack of dialogue
   among Turkish political parties and the undermining of press freedom and other
   basic rights in Turkey are the key factors slowing down the country's EU
   accession talks. However, Parliament welcomed Turkey's adoption of
   constitutional amendments but stressed that an overall constitutional reform is still
   needed to transform Turkey into a real democracy. Also applauded was the recent
   finalisation of negotiations on a readmission agreement to address migration.
   Once this enters into force, the European Commission should initiate a visa
   dialogue, with particular attention to the matter of entry conditions for business
   people and students. Among the main remaining challenges, Parliament lists the
   deterioration of press freedom, including self-censorship of national media and
   internet sites, the situation of women and rising rates of honour killings and forced
   marriages, and the lack of protection of religious minorities. Only limited progress
   has been made to ensure the legal protection of religious minorities so that they
   can own properties, open houses of worship or train clergy.

   During the drafting process of parliament's position by the Foreign Affairs
   Committee, the EPP group agreed to withdraw an amendment calling on EU
   institutions to study the possibility of establishing a "privileged partnership" with
   Turkey, as an alternative to full EU membership.

   On Montenegro, Parliament welcomed the European Council’s decision to grant
   Montenegro EU candidate country status, expressing hope that accession talks
   could begin this year. Some concerns were voiced, particularly about corruption,
   organised crime, discrimination and curbs on media freedom. Parliament
   welcomed the general consensus and high priority given to European integration
   by the government and opposition parties, particularly the work done on finalising
   Montenegro's legal and constitutional framework and its good track record in
   implementing economic reforms. It emphasised that corruption is still prevalent
   in many areas, especially in the construction, privatisation and public
   procurements sector and that organised crime, in particular money-laundering and
   smuggling, remained a problem. Parliament is also worried that women continue
   to be under-represented in decision-making processes and in leading positions.
   While welcoming the generally good inter-ethnic relations and good general


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   protection of minority rights in the country, Parliament called on the authorities to
   improve the living conditions of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities.
   Finally, Parliament felt that further steps are required to ensure independence and
   professionalism of media outlets, citing the disproportionate fines that can be
   imposed for defamation, thereby hampering journalistic freedom and
   independence.


   Parliament to call for tougher credit rating agency rules
   In advance of Commission legislative proposals on Credit Rating Agencies, the
   European Parliament is expected to call for the new rules for CRAs to clarify their
   working methods, boost competition and reduce reliance on their ratings. In its
   draft resolution, Parliament also calls for special attention to sovereign debt. This
   position did not however find unanimous support as the Socialists chose to
   abstain, with a view to amending the final position before Parliament as a whole
   votes on it. The key points of discord were to do with methods for rating
   sovereign debt and with the structure of a proposed European credit rating
   foundation . The draft refrains from significantly reducing the scope for private
   CRAs to rate sovereign debt, as had initially been advocated by the Socialists and
   the GUE/NGL group. It nonetheless calls for more light to be shed on how CRAs
   arrive at their sovereign ratings, and says they should explain their methodologies
   and why their ratings deviate from the forecasts of the main international financial
   institutions.
   The other bone of contention was about what structure to propose to provide a
   European counterweight to the three largest CRAs, which are felt to be too
   dominant on the European scene. The resolution calls on the Commission to carry
   out a detailed impact and viability assessment for a fully-independent credit rating
   foundation, with funding from the financial services industry.
   To boost competition, the resolution calls on the Commission to assess
   possibilities for establishing a European network of CRAs, which, it says would
   allow smaller agencies to compete with the "big 3". The resolution adds however
   that attention must be paid to ensuring that increased competition does not lead to
   reduced quality of ratings or "rating shopping". The resolution also looks at ways
   to hold CRAs to account for the advice that they give. Most importantly, the draft
   resolution calls on the Commission to identify ways in which CRAs can be held
   liable under Member States' civil law. The resolution also suggests that all
   registered CRAs should assess the accuracy of their past credit ratings and make
   these assessments available to supervisors, and that the European Markets and
   Securities Authority (ESMA) should be empowered to conduct unannounced
   checks on these assessments. The resolution suggests various ways shed light on
   how CRAs arrive at their opinions and suggests that further documentation should
   be provided to supervisors. It also asks the Commission to look further into the
   benefits of requiring the use of two obligatory ratings, the more conservative of
   which would serve for regulatory oversight. This would give investors a clearer
   idea of the real situation of the investment instrument.


   Iceland makes progress towards EU membership
   In its first annual report on Iceland since the launch EU membership negotiations
   last year, the EP's Foreign Affairs Committee welcomes the prospect of bringing


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   on board one of Europe's oldest democracies with its well-functioning market
   economy. However, some sensitive issues remain, such as the Icesave dispute,
   whale hunting and Iceland's desire to protect its fisheries and agriculture markets.
   Iceland began talks on joining the EU in July 2010 from a favourable position, as
   it was already a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), which covers 10
   out of 33 chapters that candidate countries must meet to join the EU, while
   partially covering another 18. However, progress is needed in some areas, mainly
   fisheries, agriculture and rural development. On fisheries, it is essential to find a
   way forward in talks on mackerel quotas This issue has become especially
   sensitive after both parties failed to reach agreement during the EU negotiations
   with Iceland and Norway on the management of mackerel resources in March.
   The Committee also stresses the need for Iceland to bring its fisheries laws into
   line with EU internal market rules. Iceland, whose economy is heavily dependent
   on fisheries, has already stated in its general position on accession that it wishes to
   maintain some control of fisheries management in its exclusive economic zone.
   Serious divergences remain on whale hunting, as whaling is banned in the EU.
   The Committee calls for broader discussions on the abolition of both whale
   hunting and the trade in whale products.

   The Committee welcomed the new agreement on the Icesave issue, which had
   been reached between Iceland, the UK and the Netherlands. The agreement was
   approved by a large majority in the Icelandic Parliament in February and a new
   public referendum on the agreement is scheduled for 9 April. Opinion polls
   suggest the Icelanders could endorse the agreement this time, even though 93%
   voted against the proposal in a similar referendum held a year ago. Recent opinion
   polls had also shown an increase in public support in Iceland for the continuation
   of accession negotiations. However, the Committee believes that substantial
   efforts are still needed to inform Iceland's citizens what EU membership entails
   and it urges the government to broaden the public debate, to be based on clear,
   factual information on the consequences of EU membership, so that the public can
   make an informed choice in the future referendum on accession.


   Trade agreements and EU agriculture
   In the context of trade talks with Mercosur and the recent agreement with
   Morocco, the Parliament has urged the Commission not to make concessions to
   gain access to third country markets at the expense of the EU agricultural sector
   (MERCOSUR represents Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay). The
   Parliament's view is that the Commission should always ensure "symmetrical
   tariff concessions" when discussing free trade agreements, especially if with
   countries with strong agricultural sectors, such as Mercosur. Parliament strongly
   criticised the Commission for resuming negotiations with Mercosur without
   discussing the matter with Council and it expressed serious concern about the
   impact on the EU farm sector of a trade agreement with Mercosur. It called on the
   Commission to protect farmers' interests and put forward an impact assessment on
   the effect of such an agreement, to be debated before the talks are finalised. EU
   farm production guarantees food security and quality, and the Parliament wants
   the EU's high standards on the environment, animal and plant welfare and health
   to be applied to imported goods in order to guarantee fair competition and protect
   consumers. According to Parliament, an extremely generous offer on agriculture


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   was made by the EU in the framework of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA),
   but this was not reciprocated by equivalent concessions. Consequently it has asked
   the Commission to avoid making proposals that would pre-empt decisions on the
   Common Agricultural Policy beyond 2013.
   Irish MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Sean Kelly both contributed to the debate.
   MEP McGuinness said that the Parliament's position reflects the frustration of
   members of the EP Committee on Agriculture, and Irish farmers and consumers,
   about the incoherence between EU agriculture and food policy and EU trade
   policy. MEP Sean Kelly said that he was very concerned that the agricultural
   sector was being sacrificed on the high altar of big industry. The proposals
   regarding Mercosur were not acceptable. They have been done far too quickly,
   without proper consultation with Parliament, and they could decimate the
   agricultural industry.


   Parliament upholds immunity of German MEP
   The European Parliament has voted to uphold the parliamentary immunity of
   German MEP Elmar Brok. At the sitting on 22 November 2010, the President
   announced that he had received a letter sent by the German authorities requesting
   the waiver of the parliamentary immunity of MEP Brok. The President referred
   the request to the Committee on Legal Affairs . The request for waiver, set out in a
   letter from the Public Prosecutor of Bielefeld, claimed that MEP Brok failed to
   include in his income tax declaration for 2005 a fee €5000 for a speech he had
   given in October 2005 and for which tax was due amounting to €2900. The Public
   Prosecutor considered that this omission may constitute an offence in the German
   Fiscal Code.
   In recommending that parliamentary immunity be upheld, the Legal Affairs
   Committee commented that MEP Brok was a well-known political figure.
   Criminal charges had been brought against him in respect of a sum and in
   circumstances which would, in the case of an ordinary citizen, have attracted
   merely administrative proceedings. In addition, the public prosecutor not only
   sought to withhold knowledge of the charge from Mr Brok on spurious grounds,
   but made sure that the case received great publicity in the media, thus inflicting
   the maximum amount of damage on the Member concerned. The Committee
   argued that it was therefore plain that the case was one of fumus persecutionis in
   that it appears that the proceedings were brought with the sole aim of damaging
   the reputation of the Member concerned. In these circumstances, it would be
   completely inappropriate to waive the Member’s immunity.


2. INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ACTIVITIES

   Conference of Speakers
   The next Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments will take place in Brussels
   on 4-5 April at the Belgian House of Representatives. The main item of business
   at the Conference will be agreement on a mechanism for parliamentary oversight
   of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the Common Security
   and Defence policy. Most national parliaments favour a COSAC style model for
   the oversight mechanism, with a new interparliamentary conference to replace the
   work done by COFACC (Foreign Affairs Committees) and CODACC (Defence


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   Committees). This conference would be chaired by the parliament of the member
   state holding the EU rotating presidency, and there would be equal membership
   for all participants. The European Parliament supports the idea of an additional
   interparliamentary conference which it would co-chair and have one-third of the
   membership. It will be a matter for the Belgian Presidency to bring forward a
   compromise proposal.
   Another topic for discussion will be the role of parliaments in the oversight of
   the European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. This topic will address both
   parliamentary oversight of intelligence and security services and the role of the
   parliaments in the monitoring of Europol. Also on the agenda is a discussion on
   "Parliament, public opinion and the media". The context for the discussion is the
   latest technological developments such as the internet and social networks. The
   second day of the conference will feature a debate on the financial crisis in Europe
   and its consequences for national budgets and the stability of the Euro. The focus
   of the discussion will be on role of the parliaments and interparliamentary
   cooperation in the field of European economic governance and the European
   semester
   His Majesty King Albert II will host a reception for the Speakers at the Royal
   Palace in Laeken.


   Upcoming Inter-Parliamentary Events
    Meeting of Chairpersons of the Committees on Agriculture, 31 March - 1
      April, Hungarian National Parliament, Budapest, Hungary.
    Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments, 3-5 April, Belgian federal
      Parliament, Brussels.
    Joint Parliamentary Meeting , "Western Balkans - towards a more integrated
      Europe", 13-14 April, European Parliament, Brussels
    Meeting of Chairpersons of the Committees on Health, 14-15 April,
      Hungarian National Parliament, Budapest, Hungary.
    Interparliamentary Committee Meeting on climate change, 19 April,
      European Parliament, Brussels


3. EUROPEAN COMMISSION DEVELOPMENTS

   Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base Proposal
   The European Commission has published it long awaited proposal for a Common
   Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), a common system for calculating
   the tax base of businesses operating in the EU [Proposal for a COUNCIL
   DIRECTIVE on a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB)
   COM(2011) 121]. CCCTB would mean that companies would benefit from a
   "one-stop-shop" system for filing their tax returns and would be able to
   consolidate all the profits and losses they incur across the EU. Their
   administrative burden would be significantly reduced, as would compliance costs
   and legal uncertainties that businesses in the EU currently face in having to
   comply with up to 27 different national systems for determining their taxable
   profits. Member States will however maintain their full sovereign right to set their
   own corporate tax rate



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   CCCTB will offer companies one single set of corporate tax base rules to follow
   and the possibility of filing a single, consolidated tax return with one
   administration for their entire activity within the EU. On the basis of this single
   tax return, the company's tax base would then be shared out amongst the Member
   States in which it is active, according to a specific formula. This formula will be
   based on three factors, equally weighted:

   -   Assets: All fixed tangible assets, including buildings and machinery will be
       covered. The costs incurred for R&D, marketing and advertising in the 6 years
       prior to a company entering the CCCTB will also be included as a proxy for
       intangible assets for 5 years.
   -   Labour: Two factors will be taken into account under the heading of labour:
       50% payroll costs and 50% the number of employees.
   -   Sales: This will be calculated on the basis of where the goods are dispatched
       to/ destined for. For services, this will be where the service is physically
       carried out.

   After the tax base has been apportioned, Member States will be allowed to tax
   their share of it at their own corporate tax rate. Under the CCCTB, Member States
   will continue to set their corporate tax rate at the level they see fit, as is their
   national prerogative.

   Commission estimates suggest that CCCTB will save businesses across the EU
   €700 million per year in reduced compliance costs, and €1.3 billion through
   consolidation. In addition, businesses looking to expand cross-border will benefit
   from up to €1 billion in savings.

   The CCCTB would be optional for companies. This means that those that felt that
   they would benefit from a harmonised EU system could opt-in, while other
   companies would continue to work within their national systems. The
   Commission is at pains to point out that CCCTB is not a first step towards
   harmonisation of tax rates and stresses that it has no plans to harmonise Member
   States’ corporate tax rates. Member States will continue to decide their own
   corporate tax rates, as is their sovereign right. Where this does not lead to
   distortions, differences in tax rates allow a certain degree of tax competition to be
   maintained in the Internal Market. What the CCCTB will do, the Commission
   points out, is create more transparency with regard to the effective corporate tax
   situation in Member States, thus creating fairer tax competition within the EU.

   For this proposal to be adopted in the Council, unanimity will be required. If this
   is not possible, there is already speculation in the media that the Commission will
   follow the 'enhanced cooperation" method, whereby a number of like minded
   Member States may adopt the legislation.


   EU proposal for passenger data to fight serious crime and terrorism
   The European Commission has presented a proposal for an EU Passenger Name
   Record (PNR) Directive to fight serious crime and terrorism [Directive on the use
   of Passenger Name Record data for the prevention, detection, investigation and
   prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime (COM(2011)32]. The proposal


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   obliges air carriers to provide EU Member States with data on passengers entering
   or departing from the EU, whilst guaranteeing a high level of protection of privacy
   and personal data.

   In this proposal, the Commission lays down common rules for EU Member States
   to set up national PNR systems. It proposes -

      That air carriers transfer data on passengers on international flights held in the
       carriers' reservation systems to a dedicated unit in the Member State of arrival
       or departure.
      PNR data may not be used by the Member States for any purpose except
       fighting serious crime and terrorist offences. The data must be made
       anonymous 1 month after the flight, and data must not be retained for more
       than five years in total. Sensitive data that could reveal racial or ethnic origin,
       political opinions, or religious beliefs may never be transferred by air carriers
       to, or in any way used by, the Member States. Member States will not be able
       to access the databases of air carriers, and must set up dedicated units to
       handle the data and keep it secure and ensure those units are monitored by an
       independent supervisory (data protection) authority.

   Clear rules on passengers' right to accurate information about the collection of
   PNR data are also introduced, as well as rules giving passengers the right to
   access, rectify, and delete their data, and to compensation and judicial remedies.

   In practice many law enforcement authorities in Member States already collect
   PNR data on a case-by-case or on a flight-by-flight basis. The Commission
   proposal would allow for a more systematic use of the data for all relevant flights,
   and create a coherent approach across all Member States. This will avoid uneven
   levels of protection of passengers' personal data, as well as security gaps,
   increased costs, and legal uncertainty for air carriers and passengers. Processing of
   PNR data under the proposal will be in line with the data protection rules laid
   down in the Framework Decision on Data Protection from 2008, and will
   therefore ensure a high level of protection of personal data. The United States,
   Canada and Australia currently oblige EU air carriers to make PNR data available
   for all persons who fly to and from these countries. The experience of those
   countries, and of the EU Member States that use PNR data, confirms that PNR
   data is necessary to fight serious crime and terrorism.

   It is expected to take approximately 2 years to negotiate the proposal in the
   Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Ireland is likely to choose to
   opt-in to this directive, which would be subject to Oireachtas approval.


   Commission proposes clearer property rights for international couples
   The Commission has adopted two legislative proposals on property relationships
   of international couples, one concerning matrimonial property regimes and the
   other concerning the property regimes of registered partnerships [(COM(2011)
   125 Proposal for a Council Regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law and the
   recognition and enforcement of decisions in matters of matrimonial property
   regimes] .The aim of these proposals is to introduce European rules on the private


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   international law applicable and to simplify the lives of European citizens,
   whether they are married or a registered partnership.

   There are currently around 16 million international couples in the EU. Out of the
   2.4 million new marriages in 2007, 13% (310,000) had an international element
   (the figure for Ireland is 1%, or 19,000). Similarly, 41,000 of the 211,000
   registered partnerships in the EU in 2007 had an international dimension. Many of
   these international couples have assets, such as property or a bank account, in
   more than one country. These couples face legal uncertainties and extra costs
   when dividing their property in cases of divorce, legal separation or death. At
   present, it is very difficult for international couples to know which courts have
   jurisdiction and which laws apply to their personal situation and their property.
   Rules vary greatly between countries and sometimes lead to conflicting situations.
   Parallel legal proceedings in different countries, complex cases and the resulting
   legal fees cost an estimated €1.1 billion a year.

   The Commission's proposals will:

      Enable married international couples to choose the law that applies to their
       joint property in case of death or divorce;
      Enhance legal certainty for registered partnerships with an international
       dimension by submitting the assets of registered partnerships, as a rule, to the
       law of the country where the partnership was registered;
      Bring legal certainty for international couples through a coherent set of rules
       to identify which country's court is responsible and which law will apply;
      Increase predictability for international couples by smoothing out the process
       for recognising judgments, decisions and deeds throughout the EU.

   The proposals will require unanimous approval by the Council of Ministers and
   consultation by the European Parliament. Under the treaties, Ireland must choose
   whether we will opt-into the measure.


   Enlargement - progress made by Croatia in the area of judiciary and
   fundamental rights
   An interim report by the Commission on judiciary and fundamental rights in
   Croatia assesses progress made so far and identifies areas where further
   substantive efforts are still needed. It sets out clearly what Croatia needs to do to
   meet the closing benchmarks. The report concludes that Croatia has made
   considerable progress in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights. However,
   further work remains to be done in particular to establish convincing track-records
   in the field of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, to address impunity
   for war crimes and to settle the outstanding refugee return issues.

   Accession negotiations with Croatia were opened in 2005. Currently, 28 out of 35
   chapters have been provisionally closed. Negotiations on Chapter 23 – Judiciary
   and fundamental rights were opened in June 2010. The provisional closure of
   negotiations on this chapter can only be proposed once the established closing
   benchmarks are met. These benchmarks cover the following four areas: (1)
   judiciary; (2) fight against corruption and organised crime; (3) fundamental rights


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   and (4) ICTY co-operation. In its Communication "Enlargement Strategy and
   Main Challenges 2010-2011" adopted on 9 November 2010, the Commission
   stated that it would "closely monitor Croatia's progress in the field of judiciary and
   fundamental rights and take stock of the situation in the first quarter of 2011". The
   Commission noted that chapter 23 requires the establishment of convincing and
   credible track records and hence is likely to be among the last chapters to be
   provisionally closed.


   European Commission sets out an EU agenda for the rights of the child
   The Treaty of Lisbon requires the EU to promote the protection of the rights of the
   child. The rights of the child also form part of the fundamental rights that the EU
   is committed to respect under Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of
   the European Union. In addition, all 27 EU countries have ratified the United
   Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The European Commission has
   now presented an EU agenda for reinforcing the rights of the child by putting the
   principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into practice [Communication
   from the Commission - An EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child - COM(2011)60
   final]. It includes a series of concrete actions where the EU can provide added
   value to policies for children's well-being and safety, including promoting child-
   friendly justice, better informing children about their rights, and making the
   internet safer for children.

   The Agenda lists specific actions that the Commission will take over the coming
   years. In the future, EU policies that affect children directly or indirectly should be
   designed, implemented, and monitored taking into account the principle of
   children’s best interests. The Commission will contribute to making the justice
   systems in the EU more child-friendly and to improving children's well being
   notably by:
    adopting, in 2011, a proposal for a Directive on victims rights raising the level
       of protection of vulnerable victims, including children;
    tabling, in 2012, a proposal for a Directive on special safeguards for suspected
       or accused persons who are vulnerable, including children;
    revising, by 2013, the EU legislation facilitating the recognition and
       enforcement of decisions on parental responsibility with a view to ensuring, in
       the interest of the child, that decisions can be recognised and enforced as
       quickly as possible;
    promoting the use of the Council of Europe Guidelines of November 2010 on
       child-friendly justice and taking them into account in future legal instruments
       in the field of civil and criminal justice;
    supporting and encouraging the development of training activities for judges
       and other professionals at European level regarding the optimal participation
       of children in judicial systems;
    supporting the exchange of best practices and the improvement of training for
       guardians, public authorities and other actors who are in close contact with
       unaccompanied children
    paying particular attention to children in the context of the EU Framework for
       National Roma Integration Strategies, which will be adopted in spring 2011;




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      strongly encouraging and providing support to all Member States to ensure the
       swift introduction and full functioning of the hotline for missing children and
       the child alert mechanisms;
      continuing the implementation of the 2007 EU Guidelines on the Protection
       and Promotion of the Rights of the Child that focus on combating all forms of
       violence against children. The EU will also evaluate the implementation of the
       Guidelines. The EU will implement the EU Guidelines on Children and
       Armed Conflicts based on the 2010 Revised Implementation Strategy;
      setting up, in the course of 2011, a single entry point on EUROPA with
       information for children on the EU and on the rights of the child. The
       Commission will invite other EU institutions to join this initiative.


   Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and
   Innovation funding
   The European Commission has published a green paper which launches a
   consultation on major improvements to EU research and innovation funding to
   make participation easier, increase scientific and economic impact and improve
   value for money [GREEN PAPER- From Challenges to Opportunities: Towards
   a Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation funding.
   COM(2011) 48]. In its Green Paper, the Commission proposes a "Common
   Strategic Framework", which would cover the current Framework Programme for
   Research (FP7), the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme
   (CIP) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The Green
   Paper will also -

      provide a clear focus on three key objectives: giving the EU a world-beating
       science base, boosting competitiveness and tackling key challenges such as
       climate change, resource efficiency, energy and food security, health and an
       ageing population.
      make EU funding more attractive and easier to access for participants. The
       Framework will allow a simpler and more streamlined set of funding
       instruments covering the full innovation chain, including basic research,
       applied research, collaboration between academia and industry and firm-level
       innovation. Flexibility will be promoted to encourage diversity and business
       involvement. Applicants should be able to apply for several different projects
       without repeatedly providing the same information.
      There will be much simpler and more consistent procedures for accounting for
       the use of the funds received.

   Other ideas in the Green Paper include: further steps to pool Member States
   national research funding; better links with cohesion funding; using EU funding to
   stimulate public procurement; more use of prizes; further strengthening the role of
   the European Research Council and of financial instruments such as the Risk-
   Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF) and the loan guarantee and venture capital
   investments; and drawing up a set of performance indicators to measure the
   success of EU research and innovation funding.




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   The consultation is open until s 20 May. The Commission will then bring forward
   before the end of 2011 a legislative proposal for research and innovation spending
   under the future EU budget post-2013.

   The current Framework Programme for Research FP7 has a budget of €53 billion
   (2007-2013). More than 9,000 projects have so far been funded. A study has
   estimated that projects selected for funding in 2011 alone will create up to
   165,000 jobs.


   Recruitment to the EU Institutions
   The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) has published the results of the
   most recent open competition to select generalist graduate 'Administrators', for
   which EPSO received more than 51,000 applications. This competition
   introduced a streamlined two stage process, which has cut the time of large
   selection procedures from 2 years to 10 months and smaller specialist selections
   from an average of 16 months to just 6 months.

   Of the applications received, 37,329 sat the first stage computer-based reasoning
   tests in centres around Europe and across the world. 992 candidates were invited
   to the second stage - an Assessment Centre in Brussels - where, through exercises
   such as group negotiations and structured interviews, expert Selection Boards
   were able to assess their abilities in a range of competencies. The list of successful
   candidates comprises 308 people across 5 different fields- European Public
   Administration, Law, Economics, Audit and ICT.

   The 2011 graduate 'Administrator' selection procedure will open on 16th March.
   From 2011 it is open to students in the final year of their Bachelor's degree
   studies. From 2011 the first stage of assessment is available in all 23 official EU
   languages.


   Court ruling confirms Member States discretion to determine free to view
   sporting events
   A ruling by the EU General Court has confirmed that individual Member States
   have discretion under EU law to decide which sporting events are of major
   importance for their public and so should be available on free-to-view television.
   The rulings concerned an appeal by FIFA and UEFA against a Commission
   decision to approve lists of football matches to be available on free-to-view
   television submitted by Belgium and the United Kingdom. The Court found that
   the Commission acted correctly in approving the lists of events of UK and
   Belgium. Both countries had submitted lists including the whole final tournament
   of the FIFA Football World Cup (i.e.64 football matches) and the UK's list also
   included all the UEFA European Football Championship (i.e. 31 matches). FIFA
   and UEFA had argued that the whole final tournament cannot be considered as an
   event of major importance.

   Under the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive, Member States
   can draw up a list of events of major importance (such as the Olympic Games) for
   their general public and take measures to ensure that these events are accessible on


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   free-to-view television. These lists can be submitted to the European Commission
   for approval in order to get recognition in other Member States. At present, the
   lists in 8 Member States approved by the Commission (Austria, Belgium, Finland,
   France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and United Kingdom) are in force.

   The Court found that ‘prime’ and ‘gala’ matches, and non-prime matches, could
   be considered of major importance and can therefore be included in a national list
   specifying the events to which the public should be able to have access on free
   television. In particular, the Court ruled that in the absence of harmonisation in the
   EU of specific events which Member States may consider to be of major
   importance for society, a number of different approaches concerning the inclusion
   of the World Cup and EURO matches in a national list may be compatible with
   the AVMS Directive.


   Commission launches action plan to reduce early school leaving
   The Commission has launched an action plan that will help Member States to
   achieve the Europe 2020 headline target of reducing the EU average rate of early
   school leavers to under 10%, from the current level of 14.4%, by the 2020. More
   than six million young people in the EU leave education and training with lower
   secondary level qualifications at best. They face severe difficulties in finding
   work, are more often unemployed and dependent on welfare benefits. The
   Commission's new initiative outlines the situation across Europe regarding early
   school leaving, its main causes, its risks for future economic and societal
   development, and proposes ways to tackle the problem more effectively. The
   current EU-average of 14.4% early school leavers masks considerable differences
   between countries. Eight Member States have already achieved the 10%
   benchmark: Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland,
   Slovakia and Slovenia. Three Member States have rates higher than 30%: Malta,
   Portugal and Spain. The rate in Ireland is 11.5%.

   Early school leaving is a complex problem and cannot be solved by education
   policies alone. Efficient strategies to reduce early school leaving must address
   education, youth and social policies. They need to be tailored to local, regional
   and national conditions. They should include prevention, intervention and
   compensation measures -

      Prevention of early school leaving needs to start as early as possible by
       supporting children in their learning and by avoiding conditions which may
       trigger early leaving, such as making a pupil repeat a school year and failing to
       properly assist children with different mother-tongues.
      Intervention measures need to quickly and effectively address emerging
       difficulties such as truancy and low performance levels.
      Compensation measures need to offer 'second chance' learning opportunities
       including additional classes in school and possibilities for young adults to re-
       enter education and training.

   Better co-operation between EU countries, the exchange of good practices and a
   more targeted use of EU funding can also help to tackle the problem. The
   Commission's proposals will be discussed by Education Ministers during their


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   Council meeting on 2-4 May in Brussels. Member States will be invited to adopt
   comprehensive strategies based on this framework by the end of 2012 and to
   implement them through their national reform programmes. The Commission, for
   its part, will target funding through the Lifelong Learning Programme and the
   Research Framework Programme to create innovative ways to tackle the problem,
   and through the European Social Fund to finance national and regional measures
   to reduce early school leaving.


4. Council of the European Union

   Eurozone leaders agree “Pact for the Euro” – Need for tax policy coordination
   stressed
   At their recent meeting in Brussels, Eurozone leaders decided to adopt a “Pact for
   the Euro” to strengthen the economic pillar of the monetary union, achieve a new
   quality of economic policy coordination in the Euro area and improve
   competitiveness. The Pact focuses primarily on areas that fall under national
   competence and are key for increasing competitiveness and avoiding harmful
   imbalances. Competitiveness is essential to help the EU grow faster and more
   sustainably in the medium and long term and to produce higher levels of income
   for citizens. This renewed effort for stronger economic policy coordination for
   competitiveness and convergence rests on four guiding rules:

      It will be in line with and strengthen existing economic governance in the EU
      It will be focused, action oriented, and cover priority policy areas that are
       essential for fostering competitiveness and convergence
      Each year, concrete national commitments will be undertaken by each Head
       of State or Government
      The Pact will fully respect the integrity of the Single Market.

   Eurozone Member States undertook to take all necessary measures to pursue the
   following objectives -

      Foster competitiveness, where progress will be assessed on the basis of wage
       and productivity developments and competitiveness adjustment needs.
      Foster employment, where progress will be assessed on the basis of long term
       and youth unemployment rates, and labour participation rates.
      Contribute further to the sustainability of public finances, where the highest
       attention will be paid to sustainability of pensions, health care and social
       benefits. On national fiscal rules, Eurozone Member States commit to
       translating EU fiscal rules as set out in the Stability and Growth Pact into
       national legislation.
      Reinforce financial stability. Comprehensive reform of the EU framework for
       financial sector supervision and regulation has been launched. In this context,
       Member States commit to putting in place national legislation for banking
       resolution,

   In addition to the issues mentioned above, the published conclusion of the meeting
   say that attention will be paid to tax policy coordination. Direct taxation remains a
   national competence. However, pragmatic coordination of tax policies is a


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   necessary element of a stronger economic policy coordination in the Euro area to
   support fiscal consolidation and economic growth. In this context, Member States
   committed to engage in structured discussions on tax policy issues, notably to
   ensure the exchange of best practices, avoidance of harmful practices and
   proposals to fight against fraud and tax evasion. Developing a common corporate
   tax base could be a revenue neutral way forward to ensure consistency among
   national tax systems while respecting national tax strategies, and to contribute to
   fiscal sustainability and the competitiveness of European businesses.

   This Pact will be presented to the European Council of 24/25 March 2011 with a
   view to non-euro area Member States indicating whether they intend to participate
   in the Pact. At the same time Euro area Member States will indicate the first
   measures they pledge to implement under the Pact for the next year. In any event,
   concrete commitments should be included in the National Reform and Stability
   Programmes to be submitted in April and will be presented to the June European
   Council.


   Council approves Directive on cross-border healthcare
   The Council of Ministers has approved a draft directive aimed at facilitating
   access to safe and high-quality cross-border healthcare and promoting cooperation
   on healthcare between member states. The adoption reflects a second-reading-
   compromise reached between the Belgian Presidency and representatives of the
   European Parliament in an informal trialogues. Member states will have 30
   months to transpose the directive’s provision into national legislation.

   The new directive provides clarity about the rights of patients who seek healthcare
   in another member state and supplements the rights that patients already have at
   EU level through the legislation on the coordination of social security schemes. It
   meets the Council's wish to fully respect the case law of the European Court of
   Justice on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare while preserving member
   states' rights to organise their own healthcare systems. More specifically, the new
   directive contains the following provisions:

      as a general rule, patients will be allowed to receive healthcare in another
       member state and be reimbursed up to the level of costs that would have been
       assumed by the patients the member state, if this healthcare had been provided
       on its territory;
      instead of reimbursing the patient, member states may also decide to pay the
       healthcare provider directly;
      for "overriding reasons of general interest" (such as planning requirements for
       ensuring permanent access to a balanced range of high-quality treatment or the
       wish to control costs and to avoid any waste of resources) a member state may
       limit the application of the rules on reimbursement for cross-border healthcare;
      member states may introduce a system of prior authorisation to manage the
       possible outflow of patients. This is, however, limited to healthcare that is
       subject to planning requirements, such as hospital care (defined as care
       involving overnight hospital accommodation) and healthcare that involves
       highly specialised and cost-intensive medical infrastructure or equipment;



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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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      in order to manage incoming flows of patients and to ensure sufficient and
       permanent access to healthcare within its territory, a member state of treatment
       may adopt measures concerning access to treatment where this is justified by
       overriding reasons of general interest;
      member states will have to establish national contact points that must provide
       patients with information about their rights and entitlements and practical
       aspects of receiving cross border healthcare;
      cooperation between member states in the field of healthcare has been
       strengthened, for example, in the field of e-health and through the
       development of a European network which will bring together, on a voluntary
       basis, the national authorities responsible for e-health;
      the recognition of prescriptions issued in another member state has been
       improved; as a general rule, if a product is authorised to be marketed on its
       territory, a member state must ensure that prescriptions issued for such a
       product in another member state can be dispensed in its territory in compliance
       with its national legislation;
      sales of medicinal products and medical devices via internet, long-term care
       services provided in residential homes and the access and allocation of organs
       for the purpose of transplantation fall outside the scope of the directive.

   The decision was taken at a session of the Transport, Telecommunications and
   Energy Council in Brussels. The Austrian, Polish, Portuguese and Romanian
   delegations voted against and the Slovak delegation abstained.


   Progress on new food labelling rules
   The Council of Ministers today has adopted its first-reading-position on a draft
   regulation on food information to consumers. This new piece of legislation aims to
   ensure that food labels carry essential information in a clear and legible way,
   thereby enabling consumers to make balanced and healthier dietary choices. One
   of the key elements of the Council's position is the mandatory nature of the
   nutrition declaration - the labelling of the energy value and of the quantities of fat,
   saturates, carbohydrates, protein, sugars and salt would become compulsory. As a
   general principle, the energy value and the amounts of these nutrients would have
   to be expressed per 100g or per 100ml. The Council's position exempts certain
   alcoholic beverages (such as wines, beer, spirits, but not alcopops) from bearing
   the nutrition declaration as well as the list of ingredients. The Commission would,
   however, have to examine within five years after the entry into force of the new
   regulation whether the exemption was still justified. Non-prepacked food would
   also be exempted from nutrition labelling, unless member states decide otherwise
   at national level. Allergens, however, must always be indicated.

   The Council's position will now be forwarded to the European Parliament for its
   second reading, which had adopted its first-reading position in June 2010.


   Council adopts new rules on combating late payment in commercial
   transactions
   Following an agreement with the European Parliament at first reading, the Council
   has adopted a directive laying down new rules on late payment in commercial


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          Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: 23 March 2011
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   transactions. The directive establishes specific deadlines for the payment of
   invoices and the right to compensation in cases of late payment in all commercial
   transactions irrespective of whether they are carried out between private or public
   undertakings.. It will increase the protection of creditors and contribute to the
   better functioning of the EU's internal market, thereby fostering the
   competitiveness of businesses and in particular of small and medium-sized
   enterprises. Under the new rules, a creditor will be entitled to interest for late
   payment without the necessity of a reminder if, having fulfilled his contractual
   obligations, he has not received the amount due on time. As a general rule, in
   transactions between undertakings the period for payment fixed in a contract shall
   not exceed 60 days, unless otherwise expressly agreed in the contract and
   provided it is not unfair to the creditor. These exceptions will cover cases that
   require more extensive payment periods.

   A derogation included in the directive will also allow certain public undertakings,
   such as public hospitals and healthcare institutions, to extend the payment period
   up to 60 days.

   When interest for late payment becomes payable, the creditor is entitled to obtain
   from the debtor, as a minimum, a fixed sum of €40, which will be payable without
   the necessity of a reminder as compensation for the creditor's own recovery costs.
   In addition, the creditor will be entitled to obtain compensation for expenses
   incurred due to the debtor's late payment, such as those incurred in instructing a
   lawyer or employing a debt collection agency. EU member states will be allowed
   to impose fixed sums for compensation of recovery costs which are higher and
   therefore more favourable to the creditor, or to increase these amounts, for
   instance to keep pace with inflation.

   The reduction in the number of late payments in commercial transactions is one of
   the ten principles enshrined in the Small Business Act for Europe), to help SMEs
   to cope with the present tough market conditions.

   Member states will have two years to adapt national laws to comply with the
   provisions of the new directive.


   Hungarian Presidency: forthcoming Council and Ministerial Meetings

   March 21:         General Affairs/ Foreign Affairs
   March 24-25:      European Council
   March 31:         Transport, Telecommunications and Energy




_________________________________________________________________________________
Prepared by the Oireachtas National Parliament Office, Brussels
Contact: John Hamilton
Phone: 0032 2 2842038
Mobile: 0032 474 289925
Email: john.hamilton@europarl.europa.eu



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